Hit Refresh: The Quest to Rediscover Microsoft’s Soul and Imagine a Better Future for Everyone by Satya Nadella

Mixed Reality, Artificial Intelligence and Quantum Computing. These are the three most passionate exhortations one finds in “Hit Refresh” by Satya Nadella, the CEO of Microsoft. An autobiography subtly disguised as an expression of the current cultural ethos prevailing inside the world’s largest tech behemoth, “Hit Refresh” is an alarmingly thought provoking book. Emphasising his reluctance in writing a memoir (“I’ll save that for my dotage”), Satya Nadella briefly traces his origins and adolescence spent primarily in the South Indian City of Hyderabad. The son of an Economist father (a believer in Marxism) and a scholarly mother, Nadella – as is invariably the case with a teeming multitude of Indians – was strongly addicted to the thralls and throes of cricket. Representing his school as an off spin bowler, Nadella egregiously confesses his adoration for M.L.Jaisimha, a former Indian batsman known for his languid grace and flamboyance, both on and off the pitch.

The hustle and bustle of Hyderabad makes way for the serene environs of Redmond as Nadella leaves India at the age of twenty to chart his destiny in the United States of America. A move to Microsoft exposes him to the turbulence and tumult of the advancements in technology and he soon becomes absorbed, assimilated and seeped into the cauldron of innovation. “Hit Refresh” lends itself to impression at various levels. Citing his own personal experience, Nadella elucidates how technology can play a pivotal role in improving the quality of life. Zain, his first born was an unwilling victim of a complication at birth, which led to him suffering from Cerebral Palsy. However, exponential leaps in technology has ensured that even when wheelchair bound, Zain enjoys a quality of life that is refreshing, cheery and almost happily bespoke.

Nadella expresses his beliefs, vision and hopes in an ingenious fashion by taking recourse to self devised equations. For e.g.

(Education + Innovation) * Intensity of Tech Use = Economic Growth;
E + SV +SR = T/t which translates to Empathy + Shared Values + Safety and Reliability = Trust over time.

But the racy part of the book is reserved for what seems to be Nadella’s three pet peeves – Mixed Reality; Artificial Intelligence and Quantum Computing. Conjuring heady possibilities if these three concepts that could have a profound influence on mankind in the future, Nadella left me reeling with exultation and fear! We are at a crossroad where paradigm shifts in technology assumes moralistic, ethical, social, scientific and cultural challenges that determine our very existence. Nadella without shying away from the hard and harsh facts pulls all punches to reassure us that when computer learning equals or even transcends human learning, we will come face to face with euphoria rather than calamity. He makes his point by choosing as his accomplices an eclectic mix of books and movies. Notable examples being “Machines of Loving Grace” by John Markoff, Rod Sterling’s “The Twilight Zone”; “Westworld” starring Yul Brenner and Disney’s “Big Hero 6”.

Quoting Goethe, Nadella writes “he who does not know foreign languages does not know anything about his own”. We can safely say that by reading “Hit Refresh”, one can certainly know that mankind now knows that there is still a lot more left to know!

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